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Predicting the records of the AFC West

Here’s how I see things shaking out in the division this year.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Following the 2019 draft, every team in the AFC West drafted well enough that I felt the battle for the division was going to be a bit more wide open than in past seasons.

I was wrong. It was the Chiefs and everyone else, once again.

This year, I have the same feeling.

The Chiefs didn’t really take a step forward with their offseason. If anything, they stayed put. The Chargers got significantly better up front and return two notable starters on defense. The Raiders blew up their offensive line and didn’t do a whole lot to mitigate the loss of their best unit. Lastly, the Broncos have a good roster but still remain somewhat helpless without a notable quarterback to guide the team.

With all that in mind, I took each team’s schedule and did my best to predict the records for every member of the division. Barring any crazy trades or events over the next few months, I feel pretty good about these.

Chargers: 10-7

According to Vegas’ Westgate Superbook, the Chargers are favored in 11 games this season. Of course, if all of those odds fall that way, they’d end the year with an 11-6 mark. That’d be great, but I don’t think that will be the case.

I’m optimistic about this season and have fairly high expectations in regards to what I think Brandon Staley can do for this team. However, I’m going to take a “wait-and-see” approach in 2021. They’re going to have to prove it before I put all my chips into this new regime.

With a much-improved offensive line, I think this team’s chances at finishing over .500 become much stronger. Two more win gets them at 9-8 and three more gets them to 10-7, which actually feels pretty good, especially with Derwin James returning whom I believe is worth an entire win in the column by himself.

The Chargers were a top-10 offense and defense in 2020 and the only thing keeping them from greatness was themselves. Lack of finishing in the red zone and special teams blunders ran rampant. After getting to know Staley these past few months, it’ll be a cold day in hell before his special teams unit looks anywhere near as bad as it did a year ago.

Barring a massive, unforeseen sophomore slump by Justin Herbert, this team is primed for something big.

Chiefs: 13-4

The Chiefs surprised the league when they blew up the offensive line following their most-recent trip to the Super Bowl. They unfortunately got dogged in the big game due to both tackles being hurt and it looks like that was the final straw for the front office. Instead of hoping they both rehab and come back good as new, they pulled the plug on both and went hard in the offseason to re-tool the unit. They managed to make a trade for disgruntled tackle Orlando Brown from the Ravens to replace Eric Fisher and then drafted both center Creed Humphrey and guard Trey Smith.

That new line gets to block for the usual bunch of playmakers in Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. When you have that trio, it almost doesn’t matter who is in front of them (unless you’re playing Tampa Bay, apparently).

Their defense returns several stars in safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive tackle Chris Jones, edge rusher Frank Clark, and rising sophomore corner L’Jarius Sneed. They’re not particularly deep at either corner or inside linebacker, but this defense has always played above themselves which is more than enough to keep this team dangerous.

Until proven otherwise, the division goes through Kansas City,

Raiders: 7-10

The Raiders finished 8-8 last year with some big-time wins over the likes of New Orleans and Kansas City. They were able to do that by riding their big, mauling offensive line which shortened the game and helped them convert in numerous short-yardage situations.

For whatever reason, the front office decided it was best for the team going forward if they blow up their best position group in favor of....you know, I’m not entirely sure. After riding Josh Jacobs through his first two seasons, they signed Kenyan Drake to be his running mate and added John Brown on the outside with Henry Ruggs. Maybe they’re attempting to build a team that can keep up through the air with Kansas City and the rest of the division?

On the other side of the ball, they added notable players in Yannick Ngakoue and Casey Hayward. Ngakoue is still good at football but the Hayward signing doesn’t move the needle for me.

Overall, the team got rid of the one unit that kept them competitive every year and I’m not so sure the rest of their moves make up for what they lost from that decision. I expect this team to finish in the basement of the division.

Broncos: 8-9

I’m going to give credit where credit it due. This Broncos roster is honestly better than most think and are a decent quarterback away from being able to surprise.

Von Miller returns to a defense that retained All-Pro safety Justin Simmons, added corners Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby, and boasts the likes of fellow edge rusher Bradley Chubb, defensive tackle Shelby Harris, and recently-drafted corner Patrick Surtain II. Under Vic Fangio, this is a defense that can give teams problems.

Offensively, the Broncos may have lost right tackle Ju’Wuan for the second-straight year, but their variety of skills players can make any run-of-the-mill quarterback look good half the time. Names like Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton (returning from injury), Noah Fant, and rookie back Javonte Williams stand out. If Teddy Bridgewater wins the job, I think this team has a higher ceiling than if Drew Lock is once again under center.

After scanning their schedule 8-9 felt like the right mark here and that includes splitting games with the Chargers and sweeping the Raiders.